Visualizing a Poem for National Poetry Month


"Admonition" detail, Sara R. Parr

In honor of National Poetry Month, I want to show you one of the library’s artists’ books, Admonition, by Sara R. Parr. Admonition takes an excerpt from a Sylvia Plath poem and makes it come alive through the choices Parr makes. I really admire her ability to take a static poem on a page and turn it into a mysterious little package that captures my attention from the moment I open it. Parr gives very deliberate thought to the images, materials and structures she chooses, making each component work together to form a cohesive whole.

The poem:

“If you dissect a bird / to diagram the tongue, / you’ll cut the chord /articulating song. If you flay the beast / to marvel at the mane, / you’ll wreck the rest / from which the fur began…If you pluck out my heart / to find what makes it move, / you’ll halt the clock / that syncopates our love.” 

The images could be very literal and illustrate the poem with pictures of dissected, flayed beasts. Instead, Parr chose to focus on love. She printed an anatomical heart in red, pink and blue to illustrate the text of the poem. How different would the message be if she had chosen to depict the dissection and flaying?

"Admontions", Sara R. Parr

The artist printed her book on a single sheet of paper. The paper was then folded and cut to create a 10-page “snake book” structure. The book can be read sequentially from front to back, with a couple of upside-down words thrown in. When the book is opened to its full 9″h x 8″w size, the text gets tangled and difficult to read. Some words are vertical, some are horizontal, some are cut in half and some are barely legible. The paper [material] the book is printed on is lightweight and fragile, as if one wrong move will destroy it.

Has Sara R. Parr created an artists’ book that conveys the meaning of the poem through text, image, material and structure? Would the poem have a different meaning if other images were used? If the book was bound traditionally and easily read sequentially? I’d love to hear what you think.

If you would like to see some of TSCPL’s artists’ books for yourself, contact Special Collections Librarian Brea Black at 785-580-4512 or to set up an appointment.

For more information, check out these books:

Sylvia Plath, the Collected Poems
edited by Ted Hughes
call # 811.54 PLA


Cover to Cover: Creative Techniques for
Making Beautiful Books, Journals & Albums

Shereen LaPlantz
call # 686.3 LAP

Brea Black is the Art Librarian and Book Arts Curator in the Alice C. Sabatini Gallery. Her favorite thing is to share the wonderful world of artists' books with the community. She also leads the Arts & Crafts team and teaches workshops on bookmaking, altered books, and a variety of crafty topics.